Columbia Falls fish pond project hits a snag

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Sometimes simple ideas get complicated in a hurry. Such is the cityís plan to put a fish pond in at Riverís Edge Park.

The city hoped to be able to use Flathead Valley Community Collegeís heavy equipment program to haul the gravel from the site to the old Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. Superfund site for fill.

But the Environmental Protection Agency has strict standards for fill testing and FVCC was willing to help, but it didnít have enough students to even drive the trucks.

So then the city reached out to local contractors and six said they were willing to help. The owners of the industrial park north of Railroad Street said they would take the fill gravel.

But then thereís the issue of truck traffic. Even with the help and a $100,000 grant from the LOR Foundation, the city will come up short unless it gets more contractor help.

But thereís even a bigger problem than that. The fill from a 1.5 acre pond amounts to 38,000 cubic yards of material, city manager Susan Nicosia noted. Thatís about 2,200 truckloads of gravel.

Engineer Sam Kavanagh, who was in the audience when the city council was discussing the pond Monday night, noted that it would take more than 50 days to haul all the fill out.

Mayor Don Barnhart said the best way would be to possibly landscape the pond with the fill, rather than haul it out.

But the park is in the flood plain and altering the flood plain is generally not allowed. Still, the city has applied for a flood plain development permit for the pond through the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, in the event it can get the project off the ground.

But thereís one more problem: The city doesnít want to ruin the streets that lead to the park, so it wants to do the work while the ground is still frozen. But warm weather will come sooner, rather than later, which may doom it, at least for this year.

There is a bright spot. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has engineered the pond and will stock it at no cost to the city, provided it gets completed.

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